Both fans and critics alike can’t seem to get enough of Sony’s Uncharted franchise. Launching a new Uncharted game alongside the brand new Vita was a no-brainer. Of course, there was a bit of cautious optimism from fans. Naughty Dog wouldn’t be developing the title, and would instead hand off those duties to Bend Studios. Converting the Uncharted experience couldn’t have been an easy task, especially for a studio who isn’t the originator of the property, but after finishing the game, it’s clear that Bend Studios was more than up to the challenge. Even though there are a few minor annoyances within the game, Uncharted: Golden Abyss is a worthy entry in the series, and a great example of what kind of experiences the Vita is capable of producing.
Taking place an indeterminate amount of time before Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, Uncharted: Golden Abyss takes Nathan Drake on a journey to Central America, where he’s been hired by his old friend Dante to help out on a dig site. Unfortunately for Nate, Dante didn’t exactly get the right permissions to visit the site, so the duo quickly finds themselves in the sights of an irate drug-running General. While on the run from the General’s forces, Nate meets one of Dante’s other partners, Chase, who has more at stake in the search for the Golden Abyss than she initially lets on. As you can probably guess, the story will twist and wind, until finally Nate finds his way to the mystical city of gold he’s been searching for. The Uncharted formula is very easy to follow, and though Bend doesn’t break any new narrative ground, fans of the series will take no issue with the way Uncharted’s story is told. The game is actually rather long, and does drag in a few spots, but for the most part, the tale fits nicely in the Uncharted canon. Fans hoping for deeper look into what made Nate so driven when he was younger won’t find much to see, as the character moments here rely solely on what we already know about these people from previous encounters.
"Uncharted: Golden Abyss is not just a great launch game for the Vita, but it’s arguably the best launch title for any handheld to date."
Transferring the controls of Uncharted to the Vita must have been the easiest task for Bend Studios. The dual analog sticks allowed virtually ever button command from the original three games to remain consistent when ported over to the handheld. Of course, there are a slew of new touch-screen controls implemented as well. Some are actually worthwhile, and some, well, they just become annoying after a few hours. The touch-screen traversal controls are actually quite fantastic. Now when having Drake climb up wall or scaling some ancient ruins, you can just slide you finger across the handholds in the direction you want him to move. It’s simple, intuitive, and a worthwhile addition. The same can be said of the new melee controls. Instead of hitting buttons to attack, players merely have to tap the foe on screen to engage in either a stealth takedown (if your presence has gone unnoticed), or a fistfight. Counter attacks then pop up in a prompt on screen, and you’ll have to swipe your finger to successfully finish off a foe. I try to use as much melee as possible in every Uncharted game, and even after 200+ melee kills, I didn’t get tired of the mechanic. Sadly, the same can’t be said of the new artifact discovery mini-games.
There are over 300 different collectibles and items to find in Golden Abyss. While some are the same old treasures you’ve grown accustomed to collecting in these games, others are a bit different. Nate will sometimes find an artifact completely covered in dirt, or a map or photograph that has been ripped up. To inspect the artifact, you’ve got to wipe your finger across the screen as if you’re really cleaning it off. It’s not a bad trick to try once or twice, but it happens way more than that, and really doesn’t add anything to the experience. The same is true of the pieces of paper you’ll come across. They’re always torn to pieces, and you’ll always have to put them back together like a puzzle. Again, doing this a few times isn’t that bad. Doing it repeatedly, particularly because of how simple they are, is annoying. There’s no real reason these two types of tasks are included in the game other than to make as much use out of the Vita’s touch screen as possible. The same can be said of the canoe paddling game, which is as tedious as it sounds. Lucky for us, you only have to do it twice. And you won’t soon forget the ridiculous safe-cracking mini-game that forces you to turn a virtual dial with your hands to the combination you already know. There’s no skill or strategy involved. Thankfully, this only happens but a few times in the game, making it the most tolerable of all the awful new touch-screen games.
The most interesting new mechanic is in the picture taking challenges. Select locations in the game will bring up a camera prompt, and you’ll have to recreate the photo the game requests as best as you can. You actually have to hold the Vita up like a camera and focus the image before snapping away. Not only is it a neat new collectible task, but it’s also one of the most sensible uses of the Vita technology. It does feel a little forced, but honestly, it’s a fun way to take a moment and really see just how good the game and its environments look. You’ll also use this style of control when using a sniper rifle, and it really does emulate looking through a scope. You can still use the analog directing if you choose, but the motion controlled scanning is faster and smoother. Additionally, there’s a unique trading aspect of the game called the Black Market. Players will earn bounties by killing certain enemies (it’s completely random), and can trade these bounties with other players through the Vita’s Near service. It’s not very important to the game, and aside from helping you earn a few trophies, serves no real purpose.
What’s most impressive about Uncharted on the Vita is how great it looks. This is the first game on the handheld to really showcase that the Vita is nearly as powerful as its console brethren. Though Uncharted doesn’t look as good as Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception, it certainly rivals the first game as far as looks are concerned. Both the characters and environments look terrific, and there’s a pretty decent amount of variation in the locales you’ll visit. Up close, textures do get a little pixilated, but it’s a consignment worth giving considering how impressive the game looks in every other area. Oddly enough, fire always looks extremely pixilated. Considering how much praise Uncharted 3 got for its amazingly detailed and realistic fire, seeing how poorly animated and rendered fire is on the Vita is a little jarring. It’s really obvious, and considering how much it’s used in the game, you have to wonder why fire was given so little attention. There isn’t much left to say about Nolan North’s performance ability, but the rest of the voice cast, particularly the actor playing Dante, is definitely capable of keeping up with one of gaming’s most famous leading men.
Uncharted: Golden Abyss is not just a great launch game for the Vita, but it’s arguably the best launch title for any handheld to date. There’s a lot to like about the game despite its few control flaws, and it sets an incredibly high bar for any and all other first-party titles for the Vita. It also fits in rather nicely with everything that Naughty Dog has done previously, and Bend should be commended for their efforts. Graphically impressive with a strong narrative, Uncharted: Golden Abyss is everything that I had hoped the Vita would deliver. If titles of this quality are what the Vita is truly capable of, then owners are in for a seriously amazing experience.
Release date : 2012-02-15
Publisher : SCEA
Developer : Bend Studio
Gameplay : Action-Adventure
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